There’s no place like deer camp.
It’s hallowed ground, whether the accommodations include meager trappings and tent stakes or a full-service kitchen and prime cuts of steak.
I’ve been in my share of them, each holding a sentimental quality for a variety of reasons, and not simply because of the proximity to lots of game.
The dilapidated bunkhouse near Katemcy featured indoor plumbing that was anything but reliable while the gnarled aluminum frame supported worn panels that harbored scorpions of at least two species during all hours of the night. And, of course, there were snakes.
The old farmhouse west of Menard sported similar accoutrements, including an ancient icebox dripping with some long-ago stench that never could be fully cleansed. And, of course, there were more scorpions.
The collection of tents and trailers not far from the previous farmhouse in the heart of the Edwards Plateau provided plenty of room to get out and stretch though December nights tended to make things chilly, even with propane heaters and their distinctive odorous hiss. And sure enough, there still were things that bit back.
The quaint abode of a former newspaper publisher near Luckenbach was first-class lodging composed of limestone blocks, tin roofing and even central heat and air, something that comes in handy during warm opening weekends and into the icy dead of winter. And, you guessed it, there still was a bounty of vermin looking to get inside.
While deer camp quarters come in an array of quality and quantity – typically not both – the cast of characters that are found to inhabit said residences for anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks are anything but vanilla.
You simply can’t make this stuff up.
There’s the 30-something father of two who enjoys getting away from the honey-do’s every so often and certainly enjoys having a grand time in the woods. He’s the first to crack open an adult beverage and the first to crack a joke. He’s also the guy who grabs a heaping helping of Copenhagen right before he racks out, the pungent dark mass inexplicably disappearing before sunrise even though he never got out of bed.
There’s the 50-something good old boy who never had much hunting luck but always was the first to buy everyone’s greasy enchilada dinner during a trip to town. He’s also the guy who loved Vienna sausages, toting along at least one can of mystery meat each time he went to the stand. The lucky charm turned out to be special the time he cranked off several rounds at a big deer only to discover later he’d harvested a 24-inch wide non-typical beast of a buck.
Then there are the pair at opposite ends of the spectrum: The seasoned hunter who must tote along his cannon of a rifle, the high-caliber type that likely could take down a small aircraft, but without it he felt rather naked; and the white-haired fellow who is convinced that a mature buck has the instinctive ability to gore any hunter not ensconced in an elevated stand but yet only carried a .22 Hornet on whitetail outings.
There are things that belong at deer camp. Stories around a glowing campfire. Shooting stars you’d never see in the city. Lots of heavy meals that help keep you warm. Camaraderie of like-minded individuals there for the same purpose: To get away and revel in the best of the outdoors.
There also are things that have no place. Cars don’t serve a purpose when you’re careening off jagged rocks and uneven terrain, and you should never put a game animal in a trunk. Ever.
You also should never allow technology to let you lose focus of your prime principle for partaking in the pursuit. Cellphones are handy for a couple of reasons: You can let someone know you need help tracking or transporting your trophy or you can alert the proper responders should you need emergency aid. Other than that, you don’t need it, especially since it may help connect you to an employer looking to take up part of your warranted free time.
Another thing that has no place are deer stands that carry identification in numeral form. They should bear hard-won monikers earned after years of taking all that the elements have to offer and remaining solid and dependable perches.
The windmill blind that has brought a number of solid bucks during the years has the accompanying steelwork and water source nearby.
The pear flat that always produces at least one great buck but requires nimble footsteps to avoid hulking masses of prickly pear cactus.
The raccoon stand that provides shelter to all types of small, furry mammals that enjoy leaving messes to alert of their presence.
The family blind – a colossal mass of plywood and cross pieces – its innards able to conceal a grown man and his two young charges.
The ultimate poker game is the selection of who hunts where – morning or night, rain or shine, deer or no deer.
“Where you want to hunt?” is the shuffling of the deck and the following go-round of “… well, where do you want to sit,” are the successive antes into the pot. The trick is to wait it out and never show your hand. Typically the first to call loses. Sure you may have seen a good buck during a morning hunt – but just how good is up for dogged speculation – and if you play your cards right you just might be able to find your way back to that same stand for the evening hunt.
Here’s hoping this weekend finds you heartily enjoying time at your deer camp.
Just remember to watch out for the scorpions.